Corporate innovation programs are all the rage these days, but there are certain things you must have in place to successfully drive innovation. Having lived in the trenches of corporate innovation for the last six years, and emerging with both battle scars and measureable successes, I can attest to those elements that you absolutely must have in place for your program to survive and thrive.
1. Find Your Evangelist
You must have strong executive-level sponsorship. This seems intuitive, but it goes beyond a mid-level manager assigning you to “build an innovation lab.” You need someone who can evangelize your mission to the organization—someone who supports you through the early stretch of little to no breakthroughs, and someone to have your back when you break some of the rules in the name of accelerating innovation. You need a champion who’s willing to get a little bruised for you.
2. Build an Autonomous Team
While you may not work out of a secret offsite “innovation lab,” you must have the independence to deliver projects outside of the “normal” pipeline. It’s easy for organizations to deprioritize projects if they are years from completion, extremely disruptive or unproven. You must have the ability to move a concept from good idea to compelling demonstration to proof of concept and, in some cases, to production.
3. Ignore the Corporate Guidelines
As you solidify an idea into an actual product or service, you must have an innovation process unrestrained by “old rules.” You’ll need to quickly iterate on your design to allow for incremental adjustments. We often refer to early prototypes as “MacGuyvering.” For example, when exploring options for adjusters to remotely examine roof damage, we duct taped a pair of bicycle handlebars to a telescoping fiberglass pole and added a smartphone mount and a pinhole camera, all for under $200. Such prototypes allow you to tweak throughout the process rather than trying to modify a fully baked product that was built based on a set of flawed requirements or assumptions.
4. Have a Tenacious Spirit
You must have resilience, curiosity and thick skin. You’re going to hear “No”, “Why?” and “You can’t expect that to work.” You’ll fail over and over. These are not roadblocks—just speed bumps, but if you view them as insurmountable, you won’t get far. Work around them, find allies and strengthen your story. Be passionate and never give up.
5. Deliver More Than Just Good Ideas
Innovation is the translation of an idea into something that creates value. And it's something at which you must eventually succeed. It’s not enough to generate thousands of ideas or shift the culture. You must deliver real value to the corporation—cost savings, cost avoidance or revenue. Your executive champion can provide cover during your grace period, but your efforts must eventually yield a winner.
In most companies, the deck is automatically stacked against any team trying to deliver on the promise of innovation. By ensuring that you have these five elements in place, your chances of delivering on the promise of innovation are significantly increased.
Matt Manzella is a director of technology and operations at Allstate.
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